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biofuels company profile A US company develops nanotechnology combining ethanol with corn oil for a new blendstock that reduces diesel emissions

Nanoparticles under the spotlight

T

he world is shifting inexorably – if at an uncertain speed – away from fossil fuels. One Californiaheadquarted company is aiming to help with bringing a low-cost solution to some of the world’s growing problems in the environment and energy sector. Sylvatex has developed a renewable nanochemistry platform that makes nanoparticles out of plant-based inputs and can be used to coordinate the interactions between materials that are normally immiscible – not forming a homogeneous mixture when added together. These nanoparticles have a myriad of applications ranging from fuels to cosmetics, industrial stabilisers to production of nanomaterials for energy storage solutions. Sylvatex currently focuses on nanoscale delivery system of oxygenates for alternative fuel products that reduce particulate matter and carbon intensity for a healthier environment. The company’s second application is a solution for the energy storage industry for nanomaterial production of cathode material in lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Ethanol, water, and polar hydrophilic compounds have limited solubility with diesel and are therefore prone to phase separation. Sylvatex’s technology uses high concentrations of combustible, renewable fatty acids that act as a surfactant to form inverse micelles where the ethanol components are concentrated inside of a bubble to result in

a nanoscale system that is thermodynamically stable. While traditional processes require harsh catalysts or expensive equipment, Sylvatex’s process reduces costs by leveraging a fundamental understanding of chemical interactions and complexity. The benefit of this for the company’s fuel application is that the oxygenates have a “cooling effect” on the combustion temperature of the fuel, thereby reducing unwanted side products of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). One other energy application of this platform is to generate more ordered structures of smaller particle size and a carbon coating that provides a continuous electrical network for Li-

ion batteries. The cathode material produced with Sylvatex technology has shown competitive capacity to what is currently available in the market, at lower cost. Sylvatex is currently evaluating limited partners and strategic investors to collaborate on larger-scale commercialisation. Co-location commercialisation model in North America Ethanol producers have invested considerable resources into technologies that extract corn oil during the ethanol production process. The resulting commodity product, distiller’s corn oil (DCO), provides additional revenues to ethanol producers through sales into the feed and biodiesel markets.

Sylvatex’s mission is to harmonise product, nature and industry

Although producers with extraction technologies welcome this additional revenue stream, only about 37% of the DCO is sold into the biodiesel market, with the remainder going to lower value feed markets or simply discarded. Sylvatex’s renewable blendstock provides ethanol producers greater utilisation for their extracted DCO co-product, upgrading its value as an advanced biofuel through a single offtake partner. It also expands the market for producers’ primary product, ethanol. The production process for making the blendstock intermediate has been designed to be quite simple. Utilising two key renewable inputs, ethanol and free fatty acids (FFA) are blended together, along with trace amounts of proprietary components, in a two-step chemical reaction that takes place at room temperature in the company’s blending module. Sylvatex and its process development partners have designed a way of converting DCO into the FFAs necessary for the production of the company’s blendstock intermediate. With Sylvatex’s co-location model, this process provides greater utilisation for the ethanol producer’s DCO co-product. Sylvatex can provide a single offtake for its partner’s DCO production, eliminating the shipping and logistics costs associated with distributing this commodity product to the animal feed and biodiesel markets, while increasing its

38 january/february 2017 biofuels international

Biofuels international January/February 2017  
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